Two recently released World Bank reports — one on commodities and the other on remittances — lend insight into an unfolding dynamic in the world today. As oil prices dropped from more than $100 per barrel in June 2014 to as low as $27 in the last few months, the money sent home from people working abroad in oil-producing countries also fell. This drop is a major reason remittances to developing countries declined in 2015 to their lowest growth rate since the 2008-2009 financial crisis.
My father is a long-distance trucker based in Belarus. As a young girl, I spent long hours on the road with him. I loved traveling to neighboring and faraway cities and—even though I could barely reach the pedals at the time—dreamed of becoming a truck driver myself one day. Life ended up taking me on another path, but it wasn’t until I was older that I learned that the option of being a truck driver was never open to me to begin with.
Because my native country prohibits women from being truck drivers, one of the 182 professions out of bounds for women.
If you think about it, snow is a pretty amazing thing. It is nature’s way of storing water in the winter, and then using it in the summer when it is needed, namely during the growing season. If it gets too warm, the water does not stay locked up as snow till the summer. Too much warmth also means that more snow and ice may melt than usual, resulting in floods. But at the same time, if the water comes down the mountain too abundantly and too early, there may not be enough water during the growing season, causing drought-like conditions.
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are among the Europe and Central Asia Region’s most vulnerable countries to climate change. In these five landlocked Central Asian countries, water resources depend on glaciers and snow pack. In this region, we have already seen average annual temperatures increase since the mid-20th century by 0.5°C in the south to 1.6°C in the north, and impacts are already being observed, from melting glaciers in upland areas (where glaciers have lost one-third of their volume since the 1900s), to droughts and floods in the lowlands (where weather-related disasters are estimated to cause economic losses from 0.4 to 1.3 percent of Gross Domestic Product per year for Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyz Republic, for instance).
The future looks even more challenging. According to a World Bank report “Turn Down the Heat: Confronting the New Climate Normal,” the region’s glaciers, which account today for 10 percent of the annual stream flow in the Amu Darya and Syr Darya basins, are projected to lose up to 50 percent in volume in a 2°C warmer world, and potentially up to 75 percent in a 4°C warmer world. Melting glaciers and a shift in the timing of rivers’ flow will result in a lot more water in the rivers but this excess availability will not be in sync with growing season’s water needs. In the second half of the century, there would then be too little water flow in the rivers when the glacier volume is reduced. The timing of peak flow of key rivers is projected to shift towards spring with a 25 percent reduction in flow during the critical crop growing season. The report also projects increased heat extremes which mean more of a reliance on irrigated agriculture (the report projects a 30 percent increase in irrigation demand) leading to an increase in water demand, exactly when water availability becomes more unpredictable. In this region, water is also connected to energy security, given the reliance on hydropower, creating further challenges.
All eyes turned to Russia recently, when on 16 December the ruble plunged by more than 11 percent, despite the Central Bank of Russia’s last-minute interest rate hike of 6.5 percentage points to 17 percent. When it looked like Russia’s turmoil might spread to global markets, western economies sat up and paid close attention.
What may have gone unnoticed, however, is the ongoing impact on our client countries in the Europe and Central Asia region.
With the fall of the Soviet Union, much of Russia’s demand disappeared and many firms in the country closed during the 1990s. Although the industrial sector has begun a revival over the last few years - with garment shops and private enterprises expanding - the service sector now dominates in the country - accounting for approximately 54% of GDP and 64% of jobs.
Following two rounds of low PISA test results, the government became concerned about skills more broadly and how those skills might affect employment outcomes.
But, little was known about skills in the country!
This time, things were different. We became real players in the public discussion about mitigating climate change in Central Asia.
The forum in question -- the second Central Asia Climate Knowledge Forum: Moving towards Regional Climate Resilience – was organized by the World Bank Group in Almaty in May, and brought together about 200 participants from nearly all institutions interested or involved in this problem -- including top officials of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and donors. Around 30 civil society representatives from the Central Asian countries also attended the event. NGOs were represented more solidly at the second forum compared to the first.
”Focus on the journey, not the destination,” was our guiding principle.
Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic – Laura Tuck, the vice president for the World Bank’s Europe and Central Asia unit, talks about her trip to Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and important issues related to the economic growth of the region that she discussed in these Central Asian countries.
There is nothing worse than having to wonder if you will be able to afford tomorrow's meal. Or the day after's.
But for millions of poor in the Kyrgyz Republic, it is routine - and their every day reality. The World Bank interviewed several families in the country recently to showcase the real face of poverty in the region, where the poor spend significantly more to stay warm and buy enough food to survive than in other parts of the world because of the region's extremely long and cold winters.
The problem with the World Bank’s 20th anniversary in Kyrgyzstan last November was that everybody else’s party had happened already.
There has been a blur of speeches, gala concerts, jazz bands, canapés, toasts and traditional performances as one embassy after another feted twenty years of partnership with the Kyrgyz Republic. The same guests, speeches, and – truth be told - probably the same canapés.
We had to do something different. So, as we celebrated the last 20 years of our work in Kyrgyzstan (which have been quite good), we toasted the next 20 years as well.
A significant share of the population in the Kyrgyz Republic – 37 percent – lived below the poverty line in 2011, according to the latest available data. And despite a relatively modest population of about 5.5 million, poverty rates across oblasts (provinces) span a striking range -- from 18 percent to 50 percent.
Why? Well, that is a surprisingly difficult question to answer.